Awareness, the Origin of Thought, and the Role of Conscious Self-Deception in Resistance and Repression.
Rhawn Gabriel Joseph, Ph.D.


Non-conscious processes involved in the formulation, organization, and expression of thought and consciousness are examined. It is argued that non-organized impulses and imageless non-linguistic knowledge exist prior to and result in the organization recognized as consciousness and thought. Hence consciousness is viewed as the developmental endpoint of a unitary process originating as non-activated sensations and knowledge, i.e., awareness. Because one can be aware of and have knowledge of "things" prior to being conscious of them, it is possible to know, yet not know, or rather not think about certain objectionable feelings or tacit ideas. These imageless, non-linguistic forms of knowledge are not unconscious; rather they are non-labeled and non-descriptive. Within this framework the Freudian conception of unconscious processes is examined and shown to support a model of self-deception, defined as a conscious refusal to attend to unstructured tacit knowledge of which one is simultaneously aware. Awareness is posited to be bilateral and the domain of the right hemisphere and limbic system, the verbal aspects of consciousness are associated with the left hemisphere, super-ego functions are linked to the frontal lobes, whereas the purely unconscious aspects of the mind are associated with the limbic system and brainstem.

From below cried Id,
If thou be Christ,
save theyself and us!"
But Superego rebuked Id, saying:
"Dost not thou fear God?"

The conception of unconscious mental processes finds part of its popular appeal in the shifting of responsibility for one's actions from the individual to an independent casual factor arising within a primitive Id and unconscious ego. In particular, we find acceptance of the notion that thoughts, ideas, and desires originate within and are dictated by unconscious processes while consciousness is relegated to a position of mediator between environment, Id and Superego. Necessarily, the belief in the unconscious is largely based on inference and intuition, whereas consciousness is experientially undeniable.

The concern of this paper is with the origin of thought and consciousness and the non-conscious processes subserving their development and the expression of knowledge. Included in this discussion is a reexamination of the Freudian position concerning the so-called unconscious domain with particular emphasis on conscious self-deception as revealed by resistance and repression. In addition, a preliminary stage to conscious activity is examined, i.e., awareness, and then discussed in relation to self-deception, that is, conscious attempts to disavow knowledge of which one is simultaneously aware.


Thought is an activity which involves both conscious and explicit, descriptive organization. Its process is an evolution conceived in anticipation and expectation, unfolding before an observer. The process of thought is evoked by as well as aimed at questioning and explaining. Systemic symbolizing in the form of imagery, symbols, and language is inherent in its production.

Thinking is a conscious enterprise. It is a means of consciously contacting and apprehending both the world and Self. Although thought and consciousness are not synonymous, they are interwoven in a mutually dependent process.

Consciousness must by definition be conscious of something. The process of thought serves consciousness as a vehicle for both thinking about Self, which is posited as an object for consciousness, and for thinking about the world, within which consciousness is posited as a subject.

It is through thought that consciousness comes to better understand and know the world. Thought is not, however, a perceptual mechanism. Thinking is merely a means of explaining something, be it an idea, plan, thing-in-the-world, or desire. Yet the need to explain things to oneself seems paradoxical. It might be asked, "who is explaining what to whom?" Apparently the "I" that I am explains these "things" to the "I" that I am.

Assuming that the subject of thought originates in me, then I should know something of its aim and content prior to symbolizing the substance of the subject into the organization that my thinking process generates. Thinking, however, seems to act as a conscious inner language which organizes and objectifies our "not thought out" ideas, which are not fully conscious, into an organization that may be understood by consciousness. We must conclude, therefore, that the thought expressed is not conscious before it is expressed, and the idea or substance of thought, before it is expressed in the organization which characterizes thought, is pre-thought, a state we shall equate with awareness.

Imageless Knowledge

This indicates that there is a preliminary stage to thought and consciousness (Luria, 1973; Schilder, 1951; Stekel, 1951) but, being without explicit organization, it lacks distinctiveness (Schilder, 1951). That is, prior to the conscious and symbolic organization which characterizes thought, there exists an imageless knowing (Ach, 1951), which underlies and forms the basis of imaginal experience, conscious thought, language usage, and overt responses (Franks, 1974).

According to Narciss Ach (1951): Analysis of the contents of consciousness have shown a variety of experiences in which all of a complex content is simultaneously present in the form of a "knowledge." This knowledge exists in imageless form, that is, no phenomenological components are demonstrable--neither visual, acoustic, nor kinesthetic sensations, nor their memory images--which would qualitatively define the content of this knowledge (p.24).

Though these forms of imageless knowing are indeed not-conscious, this does not imply that they exist unconsciously (Stekel, 1949). However, imageless knowing is distinguished from consciousness in that it exists tacitly as non-activated knowledge which may become conscious (Ach, 1951; Franks, 1974; Stekel, 1949). When activated by consciousness (Luria, 1973), the result is a realization which takes the form of phenomenal experience and overt responding (Franks, 1974). Hence, thought may be considered the endpoint which develops from imageless knowing (Schilder, 1951; Turvey, 1974).

In summary, it can be said that images and impulses pass through various transitory stages which evolve from an indefinite non-organized state that is prior to consciousness to one of increasing distinctiveness which achieves form and organization characteristic of thought and consciousness (cf. Schilder, 1951).

Awareness and Consciousness

It is important to note that thought imageless forms of knowing are not immediately amenable to conscious analysis we are intrinsically aware of their existence as formless knowledge (Ach, 1951; Turvey, 1974). Hence, we know and are aware of the probable content and direction of thought prior to and while we are thinking. It seems, however, that the verbal aspects of our conscious attention are directed to and dependent upon the symbolic-abstracting-thinking-language processes which organize, describe, and explain the indistinct and imageless, as well as that which is directly sensed and known. In this regard, the verbal aspects of consciousness are associated with the left hemisphere in the majority of the adult population, whereas the environmental, visual-spatial, and melodic and emotional aspects of non-verbal mental processes are linked to the right hemisphere.

In contrast to left hemisphere, verbal-related aspects of consciousness which is limited to understanding verbal information, the non-verbal aspects of awareness are bilateral and include awareness of environmental sounds and even the emotion in one's voice--and these sounds and related events may not be processed consciously, though we are aware of their presence.

For example, our conscious waking life is composed of events in which we may engage without consciously or verbally attending to their function or process, that is, we do not think about them--at least in words.

When I wind my watch, drive my car, eat my breakfast, or urinate, I may or may not be thinking about what I am doing or attending consciously to the many perceptual-motor components comprising my actions or their motivation. However, I am aware, at the moment, of their taking place.

Moreover, if I am questioned concerning these actions at a later date, my memory will be at best fragmentary, corresponding only to those aspects consciously contemplated. These processes, however, are not limited to my own actions. For instance, I may be sitting on my porch aware of the trees swaying slightly in the wind, my dog rolling in the grass, or a car going by. I may or may not consciously attend or think about them, though I know that they are there and occurring.

Nevertheless, if I am questioned about a certain vehicle that has passed but moments before, although not conscious of it at the time, I may reflect upon its occurrence which remains as it appeared at the level of awareness. However, hours or days later this "iconic" remainder of my experience will have dissipated and all queries will draw blanks. Thus, not all knowledge within the realm of awareness is without form. However, the form of that which is sensed, of which one is aware, always remains as it appears, an experience that is not descriptive. Imageless knowledge is the experience. Once one becomes conscious of this knowledge, the experience becomes descriptive, an abstraction of the original appearance.

The verbal and temporal sequential aspects of conscious perceptual experience are thus a process that may be said to coincide secondarily with the awareness of an event's occurrence or an object's existence. We may be aware of "something" but may or may not consciously attend, represent, think about, or express it--at a verbal level. Turvey (1974) has cited much published evidence in support of this view, which he believes indicates that one may "know something about the identity of an event before one knows the event's identity" (p.174).

Awareness and Self-consciousness

Because all consciousness is consciousness of something, it always requires an object (Sartre, 1956). However, although one is conscious of an object and has knowledge of it, consciousness, the object, and the knowledge of the object remain separate and distinct. This is because knowledge is an abstraction and serves to represent the object in a form necessitated by the nature of consciousness for understanding. Moreover, because conscious knowledge is a descriptive representation of something other than consciousness--at least in respect to the verbal aspects of consciousness-- knowledge cannot be identified with consciousness, even knowledge of consciousness.

Awareness, as opposed to consciousness, is non-verbal, bilateral, and pre-reflective and is not always subject to the more abstract forms of understanding that characterize conscious knowledge. Though we are aware of our awareness, once we consciously scrutinize this tacit dimension it becomes transformed and abstracted and all information gained is an indirect verbal representation of that which is without verbal representation. Since awareness is pre-language and pre-verbal thought, and may encompass emotions, sounds, spatial relations, or other variables that are non-verbal, it is thus difficult for the verbal aspects of consciousness to perceive the existence of this dimension without transforming it so that it may be understood consciously. Therefore, though consciousness can posit itself as an object in order to know itself, awareness is pre-objective and cannot be an object for consciousness except in the abstract.

Awareness, then, as defined in this paper, is distinct from consciousness. Awareness is a non-organization, existing prior to consciousness, thought, language, or other information processes that utilize organized temporal-sequential processes for expression and communication. Awareness as a mental process, is associated with the right hemisphere and limbic system.

Consciousness, for the purposes of this paper, is defined as being dependent on language, and temporal sequential modes of organization and perception. The verbal aspects of consciousness are linked to the left hemisphere.

Consciousness cannot think about or organize that which is without organization, without organizing and transforming this information so that it may be understood by consciousness. However, once information is altered, it becomes an abstraction and thus becomes something else.

Hence, awareness always remains non-explicit and cannot be made conscious, except as an abstraction. Hence, when consciousness thinks about itself, the "itself" of which it is conscious is its own organization, an abstraction.

Although such attempts at self-knowledge form the bases of self-consciousness, the "I" that is thought about can never be the "I" that is thinking.

However, consciousness and awareness cannot be posited as a duality. That is because consciousness is also an abstraction, the attempt to organize that which one is aware of, as well as the result of this attempt.

Consciousness is thus always a response, a result or rather the consequence of acting in the world, the developmental endpoint of awareness. Nevertheless, consciousness is distinct from awareness in that consciousness is descriptively representational, relating as either a passive force manipulating representations of the world through thought, or actively transforming reality through organized goal directed behavior. It can be stated that awareness is often represented by consciousness which acts to test and manipulate reality.

Hence, consciousness and awareness are processes of acting and being in the world; acting as an organization of thought and behavior, and being that which it is: aware. Consciousness, through organized actions, symbolically represents that which is without organization, or descriptive representation and therefore appears to be separate from that which has no appearance, i.e., awareness.

However, it seems we have nevertheless created a duality in our distinction between awareness and consciousness. It might be asked, if consciousness is distinct yet the same as awareness, what causes this appearance of separation?

We must place the blame on consciousness, which separates--when attempting to know and think about itself--into both observer and observed. Thus the distinguishing characteristic of consciousness is that it does not coincide with itself (Sartre, 1956). Consciousness points itself as a duality--a reflection which is its own reflecting.

Hence, we have the consciousness that we are, actively representing and reflecting upon the awareness that we are, thereby creating a separation of itself through itself by attempting to witness itself.

Self-consciousness, or consciousness of self, is thus a consciousness of awareness, for self-consciousness appears only when consciousness attempts to reflect upon the self-image. However, consciousness is no more separate from itself than a man is separate from the self he ponders in a mirror. The image is not the man, nor is the reflection of consciousness the consciousness. The "I" is neither image nor reflection, it simply is.

Because consciousness is always relational, it appears separate yet remains identical with itself in that the separation appears to occur when consciousness seeks to be conscious of itself as a consciousness. Nevertheless, consciousness cannot apprehend itself because it is already that which it attempts to apprehend.


Freud, in both his structural and topological view of psychological processes is completely at odds with this position, presenting us with a mental realm which is hidden from, yet identical with, itself, i.e., the unconscious and conscious. It is the position of this paper that the magical separation Freud imposes on the psychic apparatus unnecessarily forces us to resort to supposition and groundless hypotheses concerning the origin and true meaning of our thoughts and ideas.

According to Sartre (1956), "the very essence of the reflexive idea of hiding something from oneself implies the unity of one and the same psychic mechanism and consequently a double activity in the heart of unity" (p. 53). That is, the psychic mechanism Freud proposed to us as split is actually one and the same thing, a unity that can only be described as consciousness. Simply, there is no unconscious; the name only serves as a metaphor for conscious processes of self-deception: a conscious attempt to be other than one is (Stekel, 1949). In fact, a careful reading of Freud's voluminous works admits of no other interpretation.

The Unconscious

According to Freud, all mental processes (except those arising in direct response to external events) originate in the unconscious, and at this level exist totally beyond conscious awareness (Freud, 1900, 1915b, 1917, 1940). That is, all psychic material, thoughts, feelings, desires, etc., exist first as unconscious impulses which attempt to discharge into consciousness.

Furthermore, the unconscious ego has total jurisdiction over what may become conscious. This is because all impulses must pass through a double censorship, the unconscious and preconscious censors (Freud, 1915b, 1917) which restrict and limit conscious knowledge of what occurs in psychic life, including, to a limited degree, that which occurs in the external environment. Consequently, the censors keep harmful or distasteful information from ever reaching consciousness.

Hence, we find within the Freudian framework two types of unconscious. One is the preconscious which is latent and can easily become conscious, and the other is the unconscious, whose contents may become conscious only with extreme difficulty, or not at all (Freud, 1915b, 1917, 1933, 1940). According to our neurodynamic model, these two types of unconscious are associated with the limbic system and right hemisphere, with the limbic system forming the more inaccessible regions of the psyche and the right hemisphere being associated with the "pre-conscious" (Joseph, in press).

Freud's distinction between these unconscious mental processes lies within Freud's assumptions concerning their respective psychic energies, which in turn explains censorship. The unconscious has at is disposal mobile psychic energy which presses toward conscious recognition, i.e., the primary processes.

The preconscious, however, uses bound energy which is associated with the secondary process and the inhibition of cathected ideas belonging to the primary process.

Consciousness, therefore, has a very minor role being the "outermost superficial portion of the mental apparatus" acting as a medium for the perception of events occurring in the outside world and thus as a sensor of external events, and to a limited extent a sensor of internal events (Freud, 1933, p. 72). Thus, according to Freud, the psyche can be separated into three realms: the unconscious (Id and Ego), the preconscious (Ego and Superego), and the conscious (Ego and Superego).

The Ego: A Conscious Unconscious

As noted, the ego is both conscious and unconscious. However, though the Ego is unconscious, there are aspects of the unconscious which are wholly foreign to it, i.e., the Id seat of the pleasure principle and instinctual aims, which is expressed by the mobile energy of the primary process.

In our NeuroDynamic conception, the Id is linked to the limbic system. The unconscious aspects of the Ego are linked to the limbic system and right hemisphere. The conscious aspects of the Ego are linked to the left hemisphere.

According to Freud's view, the Ego also includes yet another subdomain: the SuperEgo--which we link to the frontal lobes.

According to Frued, the Ego, and the Superego originate from the Id and are identical with it, while simultaneously being a differentiated aspect of it. That is, the Ego is the organized portion of the Id that which comes in contact with the outside world (Freud, 1926a, 1926b, 1933, 1940). This is similarly true of the Superego and the Ego; both are indistinguishable unless a conflict arises between them (Freud, 1926b, 1933, 1940).

Moreover, in that the Ego transcends all three realms, the unconscious aspect of the Ego has knowledge of what occurs consciously, whereas the conscious aspect of the Ego is ignorant of the activities occurring within the unconscious mind (Freud, 1913, 1915b, 1933, 1940). Thus the Ego is required to be both separate and yet identical with itself, particularly in that it acts as an unconscious instrument of repression--the censor (Freud, 1915a, 1917).

The Ego is therefore required to be a unity which is nevertheless divided into unorganized (Id) and organized aspects (Ego and Superego). It is separated into both conscious and unconscious and is required to hide information form itself. Hence, the Ego simultaneously knows what it does not know, acting in a dual capacity of both deceiver (censor) and deceived (censee) and is actually an "unconscious-consciousness."

This indicates that the unconscious-preconscious ego is in fact conscious and self-reflective in that it is simultaneously conscious though separate from and indirectly in control of what becomes conscious and what must remain unconscious. Because the unconscious Ego must be completely knowledgeable of what the conscious Ego knows and what it does not and should not know, so as to selectively conceal thoughts, desires, etc., the conscious self is allowed only a superfluous existence, unconscious of the fact that it is protected by an independent and elusive structure. Whereas we have described the unconscious Ego as an unconscious-conscious, the conscious is unconscious, because (in the Freudian framework) it is not conscious of its own process. The conscious is a subordinate phantasm to this all powerful governor of the mind, the unconscious Ego which in turn is linked to the limbic system, and, in sofar as it is unconscious and aware, the right hemisphere (the domain of awareness and the "preconscious."

Resistance and Repression

The cornerstone upon which the whole conception of unconscious as well as psychoanalysis rests is the theory of repression (Freud, 1914). The concept of repression, however, would be meaningless without the existence of an unconscious. Freud (1914, 1915a) considers repression to be a concept demonstrated by psychoanalysis rather than a premise on which psychoanalysis is based. Freud posits two forms or phases of repression; primal repression is the first phase, acting to bar psychical representation of instincts from consciousness. Repression proper is the second stage, affecting ideas associated with material that has been primally repressed (Freud, 1914, 1915a). According to our NeuroDynamic model, "primal repression" is due to the frontal lobe inhibitory influences exerted on the limbic system and right hemisphere. However, primal repression may also be due to severe trauma which damaged the memory centers, thus preventing this information from every reaching consciousness.

Repression proper occurs usually after-the-fact--that is, after information has been consciously perceived. Repression proper occurs consciously, though according to Freud (1915a, 1915b) it also appears in conjunction with primary repression processes. In the Freudian model, however, material that is repressed requires a constant expenditure of bound energy on the part of the unconscious Ego to counter continually the repressed material's persistent attempts to gain access to consciousness.

It might asked, if that which has been repressed exists as an unconscious process, how is it that psychoanalysis is able to know of its presence? Repressions are revealed in the course of psychoanalysis when the patient begins to offer resistances which thwart the continuing of therapeutic work (Freud, 1914).

Resistances emerge when an attempt is made to trace neurotic symptoms to their source--that which has been repressed. For example, during the course of psychoanalysis, the patient is instructed to "say everything" and yet may resist these instructions by lapsing into silence, feigning a loss of memory, or finding critical exceptions to this provision. As illustrated in an early case history cited by Freud (1893-1895):

She often made such assertions as that there was nothing, after which she allowed a long interval to pass during which her tense and preoccupied expression of face nevertheless betrayed the fact that a mental process was taking place in her but she was not always prepared to communicate it to me, and tried to suppress once more what had been conjured up (p.153).

It is important to note from the above and many other examples provided by Freud (e.g., 1910, 1915a) that repression proper is a conscious attempt to hide information that has been consciously recognized as undesirable (Freud, 1893-1895, pp. 153, 155, 180). Hence, to do the work of psychoanalysis, it is necessary to appeal to the patient to cease from consciously excluding embarrassing or painful thoughts that may be too disagreeable to express:

We urge him always to follow only the surface of consciousness and to leave aside any criticism of what he finds, whatever shape that criticism may take; and we assure him that the success of treatment, and above all the duration depends on the conscientiousness with which he obeys this fundamental technical rule of analysis (Freud, 1915a, p. 287).

This statement implies that resistance as well as repression proper is a conscious process. As noted by Freud (1893-1895, 1911), when the patient finally reveals the hidden information, he will often add: "I could have said it the first time--and why didn't you'--I thought it wasn't what you wanted', or I though I could avoid it, but it came back each time' (1893-1895, p. 154).

Knowing, Yet Not Wanting To Know Obviously there are mental processes that occur outside of consciousness. Indeed, there are specific brain structures, such as the brainstem, which perform a dizzying array of functions, including regulating breathing, heart rate, and so on, all of which occur, for the most part, without conscious assistance--which is why even those who are "brain dead" continue to breath and so on.

It is also possible for someone to suffer a blow to the head, or to suffer an incredible emotional trauma, and to become amnesic--such that, in consequence, the information may never have been stored, or it has been stored inappropriately and cannot be found.

On the other hand, we should be quite hesitant to assume as Freud (1940) would have us believe that a disagreeable or embarrassing idea is unconscious, unconsciously repressed, unconsciously resisted, or beyond conscious knowledge. If it seems that these ideas are unconscious it is "only because the patient holds back or gets rid of the idea that he has become aware of" (Freud, 1910, p. 33).

In this regard, we argue that an individual may be aware, but not conscious. If aware, however, then it cannot be said that the person is unconscious. However, if aware, then it then becomes possible for the conscious mind to avoid what the rest of the brain is aware of--and this may be made possible by the frontal lobes or the failure to transfer this information from the right to left hemisphere (Joseph in press).

According to the Freudian view, repression and resistance are attempts to protect the conscious self from unpleasant associations by consciously rejecting that which is unacceptable (Freud, 1910, p. 39; 1915b, p. 161). As stated by Freud (1910, p. 24), repression results from the "emergence of a wishful impulse which was in sharp contrast to the subject's other wishes and which proved incompatible with the ethical and aesthetic standard of his personality. There had been a short conflict, and the end of this internal struggle was that the idea which had appeared before consciousness as the vehicle of this irreconcilable wish fell victim to repression, was pushed out of consciousness with all its attached memories, and was forgotten."

According to Freud (1913, p. 142) this simultaneous knowing and not knowing is accomplished by a conscious decision to ignore or disobey the impulses that it no longer chooses to know about (Freud, 1940, p. 275). Nevertheless, these unacceptable ideas have necessarily existed, consciously at one time, though according to Freud (1893-1895, p. 165; 1940, p. 202), while conscious they were isolated like foreign bodies separated from the rest of conscious life. This indicates a conscious refusal to come to terms with conscious though detached knowledge, by refusing to clearly recognize and confront it and what it signifies (Freud, 1940, p. 203). Thus the patient is forced to entertain two simultaneously different attitudes and perceptions, one of which is being disavowed because it is unpleasant and difficult to face or admit (Freud, 1940). And yet "the disavowal is always supplemented by an acknowledgement; two contrary and independent attitudes always arise and result in the situation of there being a splitting of the ego" (Freud, 1940, p. 204), that is, into an unconscious and a conscious.

Again, we believe that this Freudian system is valid, only in respect to the functional interactions of the right and left hemisphere, and the frontal lobes and limbic system.

Returning to the problem of resistance and repression, it might be asked how an individual may retain and hide information from himself in an unconscious, and yet consciously recollect this information at the insistence of the therapist (Freud, 1910, 1925). Indeed, much repressed material is not directly attended to, whether we believe in an unconscious or not, since its distressful, shameful, or alarming nature makes it very difficult to confront and reflect upon. It seems quite natural that an individual would minimize the amount of time and quality of attention directed to these unpleasant subjects. And yet, these attempts at self-deception and denial are entirely conscious processes; there are no forces that unbeknownst to consciousness hide shocking information from it. As we have seen through Freud's own examples, resistance is a conscious refusal to admit what is already in the patient's conscious possession:

On certain occasions, though only for a moment, the patient recognized her love for her brother-in-law consciously. As an example of this we may recall the moment when she was standing beside her sister's bed and the thought flashed through her mind: "Now he is free and you can be his wife." At that time, as well as during the analysis, her love for her brother-in-law was present in her consciousness like a foreign body, without having entered into relationship with the rest of her ideational life. With regard to these feelings she was in a particular situation of knowing and at the same time not knowing--a situation, that is, in which a psychical group was cut off. But this and nothing else is what we mean when we say that these feelings were not clear to her. We do not mean that their consciousness was of a lower quality or of a lesser degree, but that they were cut off from any free associative connection of though with the rest of the ideation content of her mind. The recovery of this repressed idea had a shattering effect on the poor girl. She cried aloud when I put the situation drily before her with the words: "So for a long time you have been in love with your brother-in-law." She complained at this moment of the most frightful pains and made one last desperate effort to reject the explanation: it was not true, I had talked her into it, it could not be true, she was incapable of such wickedness, she could never forgive herself for it. It was easy to prove to her what she herself had told me admitted of no other interpretation (Freud, 1893-1895, pp.167, 165, 175).

Thus, through their ardent denials, we find the patients disclosing the knowledge of what is supposed to be unconscious, repressed, and unknown to them. In truth, they have hidden it from themselves--and this is made possible by the unique organization of the brain.

As we have seen, resistance is not only a conscious attempt to thwart the therapist but is also a conscious attempt to disavow and hide unpleasant ideas from oneself--information that the patient is aware of.

We must agree with Stekel (1949) when he states that: "We do not believe the patients when they claim over and over again that they do not know anything. We regard them as actors who often enough deceive us consciously and who, most of the time want to deceive themselves. We do not fight against mysterious unconscious ideas. We tell the patient: 'You know, but you do not want to know'" (p. 256).

It is the position of this paper that when an individual known what he does not want to know and acts as if he doesn't know it, he is attempting to deceive himself. The whole theory of unconscious processes is thus a magical metaphor for conscious processes of self-deception made possible by the functional duality of the right and left hemisphere, and the inhibitory actions of the frontal lobe which may prevent hemispheric or limbic system transfer. The consciousness aspects of the left hemisphere are thus able to avoid gaining access to unpleasant or disagreeable memories, feelings, and so on--but only after the fact.



It can be said that someone has lied when he knowingly possesses the truth and consciously attempts to deceive another person. Yet curiously, it sometimes happens that a person half persuades himself that the lie he has told or is telling is true and then behaves accordingly. According to Sartre (1956), when a person attempts to conceal the truth from himself he acts in bad faith (mauvaise foi). For our purposes we will call such behavior self-deception. Self-deception implies both a knowing and a not knowing or simultaneously telling a lie and believing it. According to Freud's concept of unconscious thoughts and mental processes we are presented with individuals who are not responsible for the lie since it occurs unconsciously. Thus we are provided with the notion of a lie without a liar.

However, self-deception does not occur just among neurotic or psychotic individuals but is a normal process of making adjustments to the world in a manner that is acceptable to the self-concept. Take for instance a paraphrased example borrowed from Sartre (1956): A young woman, while on a date with a particular man for the first time, consents to stop by his home. She knows or rather is aware of the possibility of his intentions, and she also knows that she may have to make a decision regarding them--but she doesn't want to think about such things (she is a nice girl). For the moment she is concerned only with the here and now.

Once at his home he makes certain advances; sitting close to her, looking in her eyes, he tells her she is pretty. But she restricts the meaning of this phrase to the present--it means only that she is pretty, his actions imply nothing. There is no projection, no illumination, she does not think about or consider the possibilities--though she is aware of them.

Slowly he places his hand upon her knee. The act risks changing the situation by calling for an immediate decision as to its meaning. To leave his hand there is to consent, to engage herself in his desires, to acknowledge them willingly. Yet to withdraw it is not only a recognition of its possibility, but a refusal. Her aim is to postpone her decision--she has "no idea" as to what he is up to. She leaves his hand there--because she doesn't notice it.

And yet, as they talk, he has moved closer to her, his hand inching its way past her knee. But she is concentrating on what he is saying--the curve of his lips, the white of his teeth, her reply to his questions; this is what she is conscious of and to what she addresses herself. She reacts as a personality that does not know that a hand lies there upon her leg. She is being seduced.

According to Sartre (1956) this woman is acting in bad faith because she has disarmed the actions and intentions of her companion by reducing them to being only what they are--at that moment. Yet there is a necessary unity here, for her actions necessitate a recognition of the intention as the motive for disarming the intention. The result is both a contradiction and a unity, that is, the recognition of the idea and the negation of that idea. Or as Freud would classify it, a knowing which is accompanied by a disavowal. Self-deception affirms this synthesis through the preservation of the possibility of the event through acting as if there were no possibility.

It often happens that people behave in a certain manner while maintaining the conviction that what they are doing or saying is not a true representation of how they really feel or how they really are. Such behavior, they reason, has an explanation outside themselves, being only a rare and momentary lapse, or is justified by certain mitigating circumstances, etc. And, if our young lady described above was, "taken advantage of" by "that scoundrel", she of course is not responsible. She "had no idea as to what he was after', and "besides she was tired and it was difficult to fight him off", and "before she knew it, it was too late", etc. She is free of guilt, she has deceived herself. And yet she knows and is aware of the truth; it is precisely because she knows that she invents innumerable excuses for her behavior.

Symptoms Formation: Knowing What One Does Not Want To Know

When aware of something, one may have tacit knowledge of it, yet may choose not to consciously attend to it, to ignore it, to deny it, refuse to think about it, or hope it goes away. Hence, I may know something, yet refuse to give this non-linguistic, emotional, visual, or imageless knowledge a verbal and temporally-sequentially organized conscious acknowledgement. Thus disturbing feelings, ideas, or impulses may be partially denied or ignored by refusing to confront them consciously while being simultaneously aware of their presence. However, disturbing thoughts are not as easily dismissed as events or feelings that carry little emotional energy, though one may truly forget about unimportant events, those with considerable ideational importance may continue to exist as tacit knowledge of which one is aware.

The attempt to isolate significant information, by keeping it from being explicitly organized into conscious knowledge, may result in symptom formation. Because the resistance of objectification of an idea into consciousness requires an acknowledgement along with a disavowal, the idea is necessarily recognized. Thus the individual may be forced to employ certain thoughts or behaviors so as to divert his attention from the unacceptable impulse.

Through this division of knowledge, thoughts, ideas, and meanings quite different from the original impulse can be constructed. The impulse is thus interpreted, altered and distorted, and behavior may be altered and possibly disturbed accordingly. These distortions are called symptoms. The symptom is a replacement and thus an acknowledgement of what the individual cannot or would rather not face. The symptom becomes the lie that the patient willingly desires to believe.

The individual plagued by an unacceptable self-concept, threatening thoughts, impulses, or feelings which cannot be faced or coped with, resorts all too often to this conscious process of self-deception. Freud claims that these manifestations have roots in the unconscious. I believe that the formation of at least neurotic (as opposed to psychotic) symptoms results from the individual's attempt to limit, through self-deception and denial, conscious recognition of what he already knows, be it an unacceptable personality characteristic or emotionally charged though, desire, impulse, memory, or perception. The product behavior can result in a crippling complex of conflicts arising from the attempt to be what one is not, while desperately attempting to disguise what one is.

Symptom Formation and Not Knowing

One's Self, the source of thought, and the Whom, to whom one's thoughts are presented and explained, should not be viewed as localized in the language centers of the brain. Language is merely one aspect of that which may be identified as part of our psychic existence. Linguistic expression is simply one mode of process and function among many, a process which quickly loses its utility when used to explain what it "feels" like, for example, to ride a horse, a motor-cycle, or ski. Although we 'know' what it is like, it seems impossible to verbally communicate.

Moreover, not all impulses, feelings, desires, fears, cravings, etc., have a linguistic label, and are thus not readily translatable into the symbols and codes which give rise to and comprise thought and language. Indeed, to understand these processes we must learn the "language" in which they are 'coded.' Nevertheless, the dependence on language remains.

This dependence in unfortunate, for if we consider the relatively late development of language during our own formative years, we must realize that much of our social learning experiences took place prior to our development of a linguistic code or labeling ability (Dollard & Miller, 1950).

Moreover, during these same early years, our traumas, fears, and other emotional experiences were mediated by the silent, non-linguistic, non-dominant cerebra hemisphere as they are in adulthood (Schwartz, Davidson, & Maer, 1975) and processed and stored in a non-verbal pre-linguistic code, a code which due to physiological and psychological maturation may become lost to both sides of the brain. Nevertheless, and especially in regards to neuroses, many of these early impressions and feelings remain exactly that: feelings', present but not identifiable.

Take, for example, an infant who was repeatedly punished for touching its genitalia and masturbating. Soon, through repeated pairings of punishment, impulse to masturbate, as well as sexual impulses in general, become closely linked with anxiety and an inhibition of response. If the child's mother was successful in extinguishing this rather normal behavior in her young child, when the child reaches puberty and begins to experience this punished impulse, the experience will not be labeled as "sexual impulse" but will be interpreted as possibly nervousness, anxiety, fear, etc.

Hence, because the behavior was extinguished prior to the advent of a proper label, the impulse remains unrecognized. The result is a sexually disturbed individual who not only fails to recognize his sexual needs but mislabels the appearance of a sexual impulse in accordance with the punishment and anxiety experienced at the hand of mother, that is, as something "vaguely" unpleasant, too disturbing to think about, and impossible to label.

The Image and the Imageless

Imageless should not be equated with nothingness. An image is always a reproduction, meaning that is fashioned in the likeness of something else. An image is thus always presentational, a reproduction of something else without being it. In this sense, no matter how true the likeness, the image is always an abstraction, and as such, is always apart, that is, separate from the actual experience. At the level of awareness, imageless knowledge is the experience that there is no separation, no elucidation, no formulation. At the level of awareness imageless knowledge simply is; all else is a verbal interpretation and a temporal-sequential construction--a process of the domain we call consciousness.

Thus, to summarize: Awareness is bilateral, emotional, visual-spatial, environmental, geometric, non-verbal, etc., and linked to the right hemisphere and limbic system. The verbal aspects of consciousness, by contract, as linked to the left hemisphere. Insofar as the "Ego" is both conscious and unconscious, then it could be said that the Ego is bilateral and is maintained by the limbic system and the left and right hemisphere. In this way, it is possible for the Ego to be unconscious yet aware, and because it is aware, the Ego can also act to prevent information transfer from the limbic system or the right hemisphere and this is made possible by the Super Ego also known as the "frontal lobes."


Copyright: 1996, 2000, 2010, 2018 - Rhawn Joseph, Ph.D.